Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) was an American singer and actor. Regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “the King”.
Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and relocated to Memphis, Tennesseewith his family when he was 13 years old. His music career began there in 1954, when he recorded a song with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Accompanied by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Presley was an early popularizer of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues. RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who managed the singer for more than two decades. Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel”, was released in January 1956 and became a number-one hit in the United States. After a series of successful network television appearances and chart-topping records, he was regarded as the leading figure of rock and roll. His energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style, combined with a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines that coincided with the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, made him enormously popular—and controversial.
In November 1956, Presley made his film debut in Love Me Tender. In 1958, he was drafted into military service. He resumed his recording career two years later, producing some of his most commercially successful work before devoting much of the 1960s to making Hollywood films and their accompanying soundtrack albums, most of which were critically derided. In 1968, following a seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in the acclaimed televised comeback special Elvis, which led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of highly profitable tours. In 1973, Presley featured in the first globally broadcast concert via satellite, Aloha from Hawaii. On August 16, 1977, he suffered a heart attack in his Gracelandestate, and died as a result. His death came in the wake of many years of prescription drug abuse.
Presley is one of the most celebrated and influential musicians of the 20th century. Commercially successful in many genres, including pop, blues and gospel, he is one of the best-selling artists in the history of recorded music, with estimated record sales of around 600 million units worldwide.He won three Grammys, also receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36, and has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame.
Presley’s earliest musical influence came from gospel. His mother recalled that from the age of two, at the Assembly of God church in Tupelo attended by the family, “he would slide down off my lap, run into the aisle and scramble up to the platform. There he would stand looking at the choir and trying to sing with them.” In Memphis, Presley frequently attended all-night gospel singings at the Ellis Auditorium, where groups such as the Statesmen Quartet led the music in a style that, Guralnick suggests, sowed the seeds of Presley’s future stage act:
The Statesmen were an electric combination … featuring some of the most thrillingly emotive singing and daringly unconventional showmanship in the entertainment world … dressed in suits that might have come out of the window of Lansky’s. … Bass singer Jim Wetherington, known universally as the Big Chief, maintained a steady bottom, ceaselessly jiggling first his left leg, then his right, with the material of the pants leg ballooning out and shimmering. “He went about as far as you could go in gospel music,” said Jake Hess. “The women would jump up, just like they do for the pop shows.” Preachers frequently objected to the lewd movements … but audiences reacted with screams and swoons.
As a teenager, Presley’s musical interests were wide-ranging, and he was deeply informed about African American musical idioms as well as white ones (see “Teenage life in Memphis”). Though he never had any formal training, he was blessed with a remarkable memory, and his musical knowledge was already considerable by the time he made his first professional recordings in 1954 at the age of 19. When Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller met him two years later, they were astonished at his encyclopedic understanding of the blues. At a press conference the following year, he proudly declared, “I know practically every religious song that’s ever been written./Gjithqka Nga Pak